Remembering everyday heroes

It was long ago, though not so far away at all. An underage game on the frozen tundra of the old Tank Field or Nash’s or some such patch barren of grass and microbes.

Remembering everyday heroes

There was a disagreement about something or other that escalated quickly and seemed important in the moment, but died down just as soon as the referee arrived on the scene.

He whipped out his notebook and took one player’s name before adding: “You know what your problem is?” (Tapped his forehead).

“Nothing up here only sawdust.”

Then he looked at me: “As for you... just spell the name.”

That was Joe O’Leary, the Nemo Rangers referee who passed away recently. I had meant to refer to him before but didn’t have a chance for various reasons.

Now he’s joined in this column by another man who passed away in the last week, Michael O’Sullivan of Glen Rovers and St Nicks, more familiarly known as Mickey.

Joe I knew as one of the best referees in Cork — we didn’t have that much interaction, apart from the misunderstanding above — who could manage a game with the perfect level of control without raising his voice or punishing the whistle through overwork.

I used to meet Mickey on a regular basis before decamping to the States a couple of decades ago. I doubt he ever used my first name, and when he used my second name a few syllables disappeared along the way: MyNon is the closest I can come to it, as though it were some newly gentrified section of Brooklyn with loft space at a premium.

I mention the two of them here because they disprove one of sport’s laziest cliches: that it’s all about the players.

When you consider the matter coldly, someone’s active career in most sports is a brief candle, really. Aside from the likes of golf or darts, say, most sports are best suited to the young, and though most of us imagine those days never end, the calendar and the clock say different.

A few years of excellence before hanging it up for good is as much as you can expect, and for quite a few of us, the excellence can be a fairly distant memory. We expend so much time and energy on participants fulfilling their potential in those few years that we lose sight of the bigger picture, though. The vast supporting superstructure of administrators and coaches and officials of all stripes who keep sports afloat.

True, spectators don’t pay at the turnstile to see those people, but the likes of Joe and Mickey have kept sports everywhere in Ireland alive for everyone. Recreating the positive experiences you had yourself as a player, child and adult, is the kind of contribution to the common good that more people should make, but it’s worth pointing out that many people make that contribution as it is, and without drawing attention to their actions in doing so.

Because Joe O’Leary gave something back to the GAA rather than taking his Saturdays off to stroll around town, thousands of kids got the opportunity to play sport in a properly organised context. Because Mickey O’Sullivan got up on Sunday mornings to go down to the Glen Field and get players to register properly, those players could enjoy another season of matches.

That’s replicated in every sport; those two happen to be examples I know. Which is not to say they didn’t enjoy their contributions, by the way. I remember Joe admonishing one errant footballer — not me — for a rush of blood: “I think you had too much Weetabix this morning. Name, please?”

As for Mickey, his club nickname came to the fore the night before Jack Lynch’s funeral, when the Glen club was packed. One visitor from Dublin, a senior cabinet member, was advertising his presence too much for Mickey’s liking. “I don’t care what you’re Minister of,” said Mickey.

“I’m the Small Taoiseach here, and I’m telling you to sit down.” And because the man he was talking to was no fool at all, he sat down.

Rest easy.

Curveball from Russell beats serial detective gloom

I rambled around the Netflix site the other evening and once I got past the several million detective shows featuring small children or women being killed (‘fridging’ is what it’s called in the business), I stumbled across a gem.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells the story of an obscure minor league baseball team owned and run by Kurt Russell’s father, of all people.

You don’t have to know anything about baseball to enjoy it, or Kurt Russell’s father, come to that, though you learn early on that he was in The Magnificent Seven.

Kurt himself pops up and is entertaining (though not as good as he is in Tombstone, particularly when he slaps Billy Bob Thornton around and says “skin that smoke wagon and see what happens”: a favourite).

Anyway, it’s better than losing a couple of hours watching some gloomy detective emoting about ceremonial child disembowelment, and trying to convince yourself you enjoyed the experience. Almost anything is.

Another one to get me thinking, by George

A few years ago I enjoyed a great chat with Rose George about her book Deep Sea And Foreign Going. An unpromising topic on the surface — how goods are shipped all over the world — once you began to read it, you couldn’t stop.

The same with her next book, The Big Necessity, which is about waste. Specifically, as the subtitle put it, The Unmentionable World Of Human Waste And Why It Matters. As you might imagine, news of another George tome has me counting the days until my copy arrives. It’s called Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Mysterious, Miraculous World of Blood. Mother’s milk, you could say.

NFL happy to do the Fortnite cash dance

You know what Fortnite is. At least I hope you do, because I can’t explain to you in much detail if you don’t.

From my limited understanding it’s a video game which has ‘the youth’ playing it in huge numbers, and one sports angle which you may be familiar with is the number of professional soccer players celebrating goals with moves associated with the game.

(Apologies for the general tone of ‘Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover the kind of book you would wish your wife or servants to read?’, but I feel it appropriate given my ignorance here.)

American football players are also mimicking those Fortnite moves, hence the news that the video game is to sell NFL ‘skins’ or player tops, in a joint venture with the League.

Why? The video game boasts almost 79 million users every month and generates $318 million (€280m) per month: the game itself is free to play but buying the skins may cost as much as $15 each.

Now can you see why the NFL is so keen to get into bed with Fortnite? And why other s

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